Leo’s annual Black History Pageant, held in the school auditorium on Friday, Feb. 18, seemed even more high-energy than usual because of the involvement of so many Leo students.
Mr. Kevin Steward, who teaches biology, supervises the National Honor Society and serves as student-activities coordinator, organized the two-hour program that featured “motivational speakers, cultural custodians and teachers of the people … who empower us to follow our dreams,” in the words of BeInvinceable Productions, which provided the entertainment.
The World-Renowned Leo Choir took center stage as the opening act, but another dozen Leo students had roles, including sophomore Keith Smith (rap) and senior Jarrett Blake (spoken word), who performed original compositions pointing out that the Black man’s struggle in America is ongoing.
Readings by seniors William Anderson, P.J. Brown, Cameron Cleveland and Jakolbi Wilson; juniors Isaiah Knox, Christopher Robinson and Thomas Sims and sophomores Christian Brockett and Zion Cornell-Strickland paid tribute to the work of such celebrated Black writers as Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, while other passages acknowledged the contributions of Black inventors Charles R. Drew (the blood bank), Lewis Latimer (the incandescent-filtered light bulb) and Garrett Morgan (the red/yellow/green stoplight).
In the midst of a soul-stirring drum performance, Deshaun and Elizabeth Newman pointed out the differences in drums from the different regions of Africa, but no matter their origin, drums played a vital role in various aspects of African culture. They also noted that American slave owners denied their enslaved people access to drums lest they communicate with the enslaved people on neighboring plantations and create unrest over their living and working conditions.
By popular demand, Vincent Gray and Brian Kizer were back with a high-decibel spoken-word performance that brought Leo students to their feet when it was performed in this venue several months ago.
Gray is a product of the Auburn Gresham community who said he would have attended Leo if his parents had been able to afford the tuition. Thus his knowledge comes mostly from the streets, and he used common-sense street vernacular to emphasize the importance of good decision-making.
“I don’t hear no because I live in yes … Are you doing what’s necessary or what’s comfortable? … How many of you have an I-phone? How many of you have I will? … My library card is more valuable than my driver’s license because my library card takes me places my driver’s license can’t … Eighty percent of success is showing up. Eight-five percent is showing up on time … You don’t have a problem, you have a choice. A problem is an opportunity to rise to the occasion.”
Kizer said he dealt with rejection issues as a youngster—he was born out of wedlock, and his father refused to acknowledge or accept him. He seemed headed for the street life and a “career” as a drug dealer until a cousin intervened and reminded him of the wisdom of their grandmother: “You can do more than you’re doing. You can be more than you are. You can become the man you’re supposed to be.”
Kizer closed by emphasizing the importance of belief in one’s self. ”I am water to a well. Put me anywhere on God’s green earth and I will succeed.”
Finally, what would a Leo celebration be without some recognition for Principal Shaka Rawls? This time it came from the Cook County branch of the Illinois Principals Association, which recognized Mr. Rawls as a “bridge builder,” citing Leo’s various efforts to better the lives of its Auburn Gresham neighbors.